In an extremely selfish and seemingly ridiculous move, Google has recently removed organic keyword tracking for users that are logged into Google services. All organic search keywords will simply be reported as “not provided” effective immediately. For those who are unaware, SEO Moz has a great article on the topic – Google Hides Search Referral Data.
Google estimates that, because the change will only apply to users logged into Google services, the number of affected searches will be less than 10%. Of course, to those who rely on the data, this is a significant proportion. Google claims the change has been made to protect user privacy but after scouring my Google account settings I have not found an option to turn it off. For Google, an organization that strives to be as open as possible, this is a bizarre and terrible move.
The situation is fairly serious for us internet marketers that rely on keyword tracking to make strategic marketing decisions. For now, the number of searches that it affects is relatively small but will almost certainly increase exponentially overtime, as more users sign up for Google services. Entire industries have been built on this data so it is very surprising that Google would make a significant change like this with no discussion or forewarning.
Theories have been thrown around about why Google removed their organic keyword tracking, but the predominant theory is that they have removed it to prevent competitive ad networks from gathering data from their systems. While this theory makes sense, it is extremely disappointing that they close up their system when they have prided themselves on being an open company.
Personally, I don’t see the harm in tracking keywords that users have typed in. What harm can come of someone knowing that you typed in “cheap socks” to find a particular site? Not to mention that Google will surely continue to collect this information for themselves – so it really isn’t fully private anyways.
Users have nothing to gain and marketers have much to lose. We can only hope that if we kick up enough of a fuss that they will realize that this is important to an entire industry and decide to stick to the principles that they have built their empire on.